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The film's working title was The Million Dollar Kidnapping, and some news items referred to it simply as Million Dollar Kidnapping. Although there is an onscreen 1971 copyright statement for Batjac Productions, Inc., the film was not registered for copyright. Maureen O'Hara is listed last in both the opening and closing cast credits. The opening credits read "And Maureen O'Hara as Martha," while in the closing credits her character name is listed as "Martha McCandles."
Throughout the opening credits, which are interspersed with photographs depicting famous persons, places and events from the early twentieth century, an off-screen narrator describes the contrasting history of the East and the West. The segment also includes a brief sequence from the popular 1903 film The Great Train Robbery (see below). The narration continues past the opening credits as "John Fain" and his gang ride toward the McCandles' ranch. The footage gradually changes from a sepia tone to color, then each of the gang members is introduced by the narrator.
In a running joke in the film, when various characters discover "Jake McCandles'" identity, they say "I thought you were dead." At the film's climax, when the dying Fain asks the question, Jake finally answers "Not hardly." According to the film's pressbook and reviews, it was shot on location in Mexico, primarily in and around Durango. Other locations mentioned in the pressbook include Los Organos, where the ambush sequence was shot, El Saltito, the site of a waterfall that was used as a backdrop to another sequence, Las Huertas, La Punta, Lerdo de Tejaca, El Pueblito and El Arenal.
As noted in the pressbook, Big Jake marked the acting debut of John Wayne's son Ethan (also known as John Ethan Wayne), who portrayed "Little Jake McCandles." Some sources refer to him as John Ethan Wayne. John Wayne's adult son Michael produced the film, and his other adult son, Patrick, portrayed "James McCandles." Actor Robert Mitchum's son, Chris Mitchum, portrayed "Michael McCandles." Although the film was not the first for singer Bobby Vinton, who portrayed "Jeff McCandles," it marked his first of only two non-singing film roles. His final dramatic role was in the 1973 Batjac production The Train Robbers, which also starred John Wayne.
According to a Daily Variety news item, Trinidad Villa, the son of early twentieth century Mexican revolutionary and bandit Francisco "Pancho" Villa, was cast in a small role, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Jerry Summers to the cast, include Chuck Hayward and Buddy Van Horn as stunt men and credit 'Chema' Hernandez as the film's the livestock coordinator and Dan Wallin as the music mixer.
Big Jake marked the final of five films in which O'Hara and Wayne appeared together, and the tenth and final collaboration between Wayne and George Sherman, who had directed several of the actor's "Three Mesquiteers" Westerns for Republic Studios in the late 1930s. Big Jake also marked Sherman's final feature film as a director.